NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Robert Griffin III lifted his head from the Superdome turf so he could witness the fruits of his sacrifice, then raised both arms in the air as he began to sit up.
Although the Redskins rookie can scramble with the best of them, he decided against dancing away from blitzing Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, electing instead to wait until the moment before impact to deliver the throw he was supposed to make.
The result was an 88-yard connection with Pierre Garcon that gave Griffin his first NFL touchdown and set Washington on the path to a season-opening 40-32 upset of New Orleans on Sunday.
Making a slew of clutch plays, Griffin sustained drives and helped Washington dominate time of possession, 39:10 to 20:50. Well-rested Redskins defenders liked what they saw.
"He lived up to all of the hype. He's as good as advertised," Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "I mean, how many great plays did he make out there?"
Quite a few.
Griffin completed his first eight passes and finished 19 of 26 with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also scrambled for 42 yards. The ball Griffin threw for his first TD was given to him after the game, and the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor cradled it while talking about what it meant to him to play so well in his NFL debut and have Saints quarterback Drew Brees congratulate him after the game.
"You can win a high school state championship and a bowl game in college, but to play in the NFL, the pinnacle of it all, and win your first game against a Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, it's at the top," Griffin said. "After the game, (Brees) told me he was proud of me. That's big for him to say after he just lost the game."
New Orleans hoped to open the season with a defiant show of force in the wake of the bounty scandal that overshadowed its offseason. The Saints also got a boost Friday when a three-member appeals panel reinstated defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jon Vilma, who had been suspended for their roles in the Saints' alleged pay-for-pain bounty program.
Smith started, while Vilma, deemed unfit to play after offseason knee surgery, received a rousing ovation when he walked onto the field to lead the Saints' traditional pregame "Who-dat" chant.
Instead of riding that emotional high, the Saints spent much of the game trying to keep up with a Redskins offense powered by youth.
Griffin's second touchdown pass went for 5 yards to receiver Aldrick Robinson, a second-year pro making his NFL regular-season debut.
Rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, the first set up by safety Roman Harper's pass interference penalty in the end zone and the second set up by DeJon Gomes' fourth-quarter interception, which he returned to the 4-yard line.
Brees quickly dismissed the idea that disruptions from the bounty probe, which resulted in a season-long suspension for coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton, was to blame for New Orleans shaky start.
"Not at all. It's the NFL. You better bring it every week," Brees said. "We knew the type of team they were. We knew the type of defense they were. They just came in and played better than we did, made fewer mistakes than we did, made more plays than we did."
In fact, Brees' expectations for the rest of the season were undiminished.
"We lost the first game of the year last year and finished 13-3," Brees said. "So there's no doubt that we can do it."
Brees still finished with 339 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 33 yards to Lance Moore and 20 yards to Jimmy Graham and 2 yards to Darren Sproles. The Saints also scored a less conventional TD when Martez Wilson blocked Sav Rocca's punt deep in Redskins territory and Courtney Roby scooped up the ball to make it 20-14 shortly before halftime.
Sproles' score with 2:25 left in the game pulled the Saints back within a TD and 2-point conversion, and the Saints got the ball one last time with 22 second to go, but Brees' desperation pass was intercepted by Reed Doughty near the Redskins' goal line as time ran out.
That marked the second interception for Brees, who in 2011 completed a single-season record 71.2 percent of his passes, but managed to hit on only 46 percent (24 of 52) against Washington.
"That makes you angry," Brees said, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head. "We're better than that and we're going to be better than that."
NOTES: Saints CB Johnny Patrick hurt his right leg breaking up a pass in the second quarter. ... WR Devery Henderson left the game in the second half after taking a shot to the head. ... Saints LB Scott Shanle left the game with an unspecified leg injury. ... Garcon went out with a right foot injury. ... Redskins S Jordan Bernstine hurt his right knee on kick coverage.
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